PFAS Under CERCLA: What you need to know

The EPA recently designated two PFAS, PFOA and PFOS, as CERCLA hazardous substances.

This creates significant implications for managing sites contaminated with these persistent and potentially harmful chemicals.

superfund site under cercla
26 APR 2024 ALS

 

Why is PFAS designated as a CERCLA hazardous substance?

Two types of PFAS (PFOA, PFOS) have been designated as CERCLA hazardous substances due to their well-documented persistence in the environment and their ability to bioaccumulate within human bodies. These chemicals have also been linked to various adverse health effects.

 

Table of Contents:

Overview
  1. What is CERCLA and what are Hazardous Substances under CERCLA?
  2. Why is PFAS designated as a CERCLA hazardous substance?
Regulation
  1. What is the EPA's reportable quantity (RQ) for PFAS under CERCLA?
  2. How will PFAS be regulated under CERCLA?
  3. Regulatory guidance for PFAS
Implications and Compliance
  1. Implications of CERCLA designation for PFAS contamination
  2. Identification of PFAS contaminated CERCLA Sites
  3. PFAS Testing Methods for CERCLA (Superfund) Sites
  4. Get Compliant—Start Start PFAS Testing for CERCLA Reporting

 

Overview

What is CERCLA and what are Hazardous Substances under CERCLA?

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund, empowers the EPA to identify and clean up abandoned hazardous waste sites. Central to CERCLA's authority is the designation of "hazardous substances."

Hazardous Substances are substances the EPA designates as posing a potential threat to public health or welfare or the environment.

CERCLA doesn't provide a single, simple definition of a hazardous substance. Instead, it references several existing lists and criteria:

  • Existing Lists: CERCLA incorporates hazardous substances identified under other environmental laws, such as the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

  • Characteristics: Substances exhibiting specific hazardous traits (ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, toxicity) can also be classified as hazardous under CERCLA.

 

Regulation

What is the EPA's reportable quantity (RQ) for PFAS under CERCLA?

The reportable quantity for PFAS is 1 pound per 24 hours. Entities that release PFAS meeting or exceeding these limits must report to the appropriate regulatory agencies, including the National Response Center.

This reportable quantity for PFAS is the lowest of any CERCLA hazardous substance, with most RQ's being set at 100 lbs. or more.

 

How will PFAS be regulated under CERCLA?

By designating PFAS as hazardous substances under CERCLA, the EPA will have the authority to:

  • Streamline cleanup of Superfund sites: CERCLA provides a framework for identifying and remediating abandoned or uncontrolled hazardous waste sites, including those containing PFOA and PFOS. This facilitates the cleanup of legacy contamination and protects public health.

  • Hold Polluters Accountable: Companies or individuals who caused the contamination can be held financially responsible for the cleanup costs.

 

Regulatory guidance for PFAS

While PFAS regulations are under ongoing development The EPA has published a number of documents regarding their intentions for the regulation of PFAS. These documents include:

These documents the two latest developments in PFAS regulation, how to dispose of PFAS safely, and the EPA’s plan of action for upcoming PFAS legislation.

 

Implications and Compliance

Implications of CERCLA designation for PFAS contamination

The EPA's designation of PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances under CERCLA could have significant implications for new and previously closed Superfund sites.

  • Previously Closed Sites: New site assessments must now include PFAS analysis if there's potential for historical or ongoing use of these substances. This could lead to the reopening of closed sites if PFAS contamination is identified above the designated thresholds.

  • New Sites: New site assessments must now include PFAS analysis if there's potential for historical or ongoing use of these substances. New site assessments must now include PFAS analysis if there's potential for historical or ongoing use of these substances.

Overall, the new designation is likely to increase scrutiny and potentially require cleanup efforts at sites with PFAS contamination.

 

Identification of PFAS contaminated CERCLA Sites

The EPA might identify sites through enforcement actions, site investigations, or reviewing historical data. Potentially Responsible Parties (PRPs) could also identify sites through self-reporting or during environmental assessments.

Once a site is suspected of contamination, it must undergo a preliminary assessment (PA) and site inspection (SI). If PFAS chemicals such as PFOA and PFOS are suspected, specific analytical methods methods like EPA Method 537.1 (determination of fluorinated organics in drinking water) or EPA Method 1633 (determination of extractable organic pollutants in wastewater) are employed to confirm their presence and concentration

 

PFAS Testing Methods for CERCLA (Superfund) Sites

To accurately quantify PFAS concentrations at potential or confirmed CERCLA sites, the following EPA-approved methods are commonly used:

  • EPA Method 537.1: This method is designed for testing drinking water but is often adapted for other media. It specifically targets PFOA, PFOS, and several other PFAS compounds, using solid-phase extraction and liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry (LC/MS/MS).

  • EPA Method 1633: Released for multi-media samples, including non-potable water, surface water, groundwater, and wastewater, this method covers a broader range of PFAS compounds (including PFOA and PFOS) and employs LC/MS/MS following solid-phase extraction. This method is essential for comprehensive site assessments where multiple PFAS types are suspected.

 

Get Compliant—Start PFAS Testing for CERCLA Reporting

ALS is an accredited testing laboratory offering specialized PFAS testing for CERCLA site assessments. PFAS testing is essential for identifying the presence and concentrations of PFOA and PFOS. By using an accredited testing laboratory, such as ALS, you can be confident that your PFAS results are accurate and reliable.

 

ALS offers PFAS testing to help you comply with contamination identification and testing requirements.

  • ALS offers a wide range of testing services, including PFAS testing for CERCLA sites.
  • ALS's PFAS testing services are accredited by the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program (NELAP). ALS is a leading global provider of testing, inspection, and certification services.
  • ALS has a network of over 200 laboratories and offices in over 70 countries.

Accurate identification and quantification of PFAS are critical for addressing environmental challenges and meeting CERCLA directives. Contact ALS today to learn more about our waste testing services and ensure CERCLA compliance.